2012 Endorsements: James Madison

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 22nd, 2012

2012 Election

The Father of the Constitution nudged the Father of the Country out of Retirement

The Confederation Congress did not work as well as some had hoped.  Despite having won their independence from Great Britain there was still no feeling of national unity.  Sectional interests prevailed over national interests.  Greatly affecting the ability of the national government to function.  Negating the benefits of union.  And offering little respect for the young nation on the world stage.  The new nation simply was not taken seriously at home.  Or abroad.  Prompting a meeting of states delegates in Annapolis in 1786.  Twelve delegates from five states showed up.  The states just didn’t care enough.  The convention adjourned after only three days.  But not before Alexander Hamilton put a plan together for another convention in Philadelphia for the following year.

The states were happy with the way things were.  They did not want to give up any of their powers to a new central authority.  But the problem was that the states were fighting against each other.  Trying to protect their own economic interests and their own trade.  Some could extend this behavior out into the future.  And they did not like what they saw.  States with similar interests would form regional alliances.  And these alliances would ally themselves with some of the European powers who were also on the North American continent.  The northern states (having industry and commerce) would join together and ally with the industrial and commerce powerhouse Great Britain.  The agrarian southern states would join together and ally with Great Britain’s eternal enemy.  France.  And the western territories dependent on the Mississippi River to get their agricultural goods to marker would ally with the European power in control of the Mississippi River.  Spain.  Who were both eternal enemies of Great Britain.  And the centuries of warfare on the European continent would just extend to North America.  Some saw this as the American future if they didn’t unite and put the nation’s interests ahead of sectional interests.

The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 almost didn’t happen.  For there was as much interest in it as there was in the Annapolis Convention in 1786.  James Madison, the father of the Constitution, made the meeting in Philadelphia a reality.  By his persuasive efforts with his neighbor.  George Washington.  Father of our Country.  Then in retirement at Mount Vernon with no interest to reenter public life after resigning his commission following the Revolutionary War.  He could have been king then but declined the numerous offers to make him so.  Happy that they won their independence he just wanted to live out his years on his farm.  Like Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus.  Who left his plough to become dictator of the Roman Republic.  To defend the Roman Republic.  He defeated the enemy.  Resigned his dictatorship.  And returned to his plough.  Earning a cherished place in our history books.  Something Washington had just done.  Only taking some 8 years instead of 16 days like Cincinnatus.  His place in history had come with a far greater price.  And he did not want to risk losing what he had earned after paying so dearly for it.  But Madison knew that it would take Washington’s presence to get the other states to send their delegates.  So Madison was persistent.   The Father of the Constitution nudged the Father of the Country out of retirement.  And made the retired general do the last thing he wanted to do.  Return to public life.  As he was already an old man who outlived the average lifespan of Washington men.

Madison didn’t believe a Bill of Rights would Stop a Majority from Imposing their Will on the Minority

It took four long, miserable months to produce the new constitution.  It was a hot and insufferable summer.  And they kept the windows of Independence Hall closed to block out the city noise.  And prevent anyone from hearing the debates.  So the delegates could speak freely.  And after those four long months the delegates signed the new document.  Not all of them.  Some hated it and refused to sign it or support it.  And would actively fight against it during the ratification process.  As they did not like to see so much power going to a new federal government.  Especially as there was no bill of rights included to help protect the people from this new government.  The document they produced was based on the Virginia Plan.  Which was drafted by James Madison.  Which is why we call him the Father of the Constitution.  So Virginia was instrumental in producing the new constitution.  And the delegates finally agreed to it because of another Virginian.  George Washington.  Making Virginian ratification of the new constitution conditional for other states to ratify it.  So all eyes were on Virginia.  For without Virginia all their efforts in Philadelphia would be for naught.  Because if Virginia did not join the union under the new Constitution that meant George Washington would be ineligible to be president.

Of course getting Virginia to ratify was another story.  Because George Washington and James Madison were not the only Virginians in politics.  There was also George Mason.  Who wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776).  Which Thomas Jefferson may have borrowed from when writing the Declaration of Independence.  And Mason also wrote the Virginia State Constitution (1776).  Mason opposed granting the new federal government so much power and refused to sign the Constitution in Philadelphia.  And then there was Patrick Henry.  Perhaps the greatest Patriot orator.  And of “Give me Liberty, or give me Death!” fame.  Which he shouted out during the Stamp Act (1765) debates.  He was also Virginia’s first governor under the new state constitution.  Mason and Henry were Patriots of the 1776 school.  The kind that hated distant central powers.  Whether they were in London.  Or in New York.  Mason wanted a bill of rights.  Henry, too.  As well as amendments transferring a lot of power from the federal government back to the states.  Or, better yet, no federal constitution at all.  Which Henry would work towards by leading a fierce ratification opposition.

Perhaps the greatest flaw of the new constitution as many saw was the lack of a bill of rights.  This was a contentious issue during the convention.  It was the reason why Mason refused to sign it.  As there was nothing to check the powers of the new government and protect the people’s liberties.  So why did they not include a bill of rights?  Because it was not necessary.  According to Madison.  Who fought against it.  Because the new federal government was a government of limited powers.  It wasn’t like the state governments.  The new federal government only did those things the states didn’t do.  Or shouldn’t do.  Like treat with other nations.  Provide a common defense.  Regulate interstate trade.  Things that expanded beyond a state’s borders.  And what powers it had were enumerated.  Limited.  It did not repeal individual rights protected by state constitutions.  And had no authority over those rights.  Whatever rights a person enjoyed in their state were untouchable by the new federal government.  Therefore, a bill of rights was not necessary.  Which actually protected rights greater than listing them.  For whatever rights they forgot to list the federal government would assume were fair to abuse.  Finally, Madison didn’t believe a bill of rights would stop a majority from imposing their will on the minority.  A tyranny of the majority.  Something he saw firsthand as a young man returning from college.  Where the state of Virginia harassed and imprisoned Baptist ministers for holding Baptist services in Anglican Virginia.  Something he didn’t forget.  Nor did the Baptists.

If James Madison were Alive Today he would Likely Endorse the Republican Candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan

Patrick tried hard to prevent the ratification of the constitution in Virginia.  But failed.  When it came time for the Virginian legislature to elect their federal senators Henry campaigned hard against Madison and saw him defeated.  When it came to the federal House elections Henry drew the new Congressional districts that made Madison campaign in a district full of people that mostly disagreed with him.  Which it took a change of his position on adding a bill of rights to the Constitution to overcome.  His position gradually changed from opposed to being lukewarm to being a strong supporter.  In part due to some correspondence with Thomas Jefferson then serving in France.  And the Baptists’ concerns over rights of conscience.  Something Madison had longed believed in.  Believing religious liberty was essential to a free people.  As the Constitution stood there were no safeguards specifically against the oppression like that the Anglicans imposed on the Baptists earlier.  What the Baptists wanted was a bill of rights.

Madison promised, if elected, to introduce an amendment to the Constitution addressing their concerns.  In fact, a bill of rights would be the first Constitutional amendment.  And he would introduce it and fight for it until it was ratified.  Based on this promise the Baptists threw their support behind Madison.  Got him elected to the House of Representatives.  And Madison delivered on his promise.  Championing a bill of rights through Congress.  The Father of the Constitution also became the Father of the Bill of Rights.  And then it was a knockdown drag-out fight in the Virginian legislature to get the new Bill of Rights ratified.   Where the opposition to ratification was led by none other than Patrick Henry.  But he would lose that fight, too.  And the nation would have a federal government with limited, enumerated powers.  With individual liberties protected by a bill of rights.  Providing a federal government powerful enough to do the things it needed to do like treat with other nations, provide a common defense, regulate interstate trade, etc.  Those things that expanded beyond a state’s borders.  And in the following decade we would be prosperous because of it.

None of this could have happened without Virginia’s ratification of the Constitution.  Which opened the door for George Washington to be our first president.  And helped New York ratify the Constitution.  With the ratification in Virginia.  And the letter writing campaign in support of ratification.  Which appeared in newspapers.  Articles written by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton (mostly) and John Jay.  Now published as the Federalists Papers.  Thanks to the tireless efforts of Madison and Hamilton the nation had a new form of government.  But Madison and Hamilton would soon part ways once Hamilton was Secretary of the Treasury.  And took great liberties with the necessary and proper clause of the Constitution.  Expanding the power and scope of the federal government far beyond what Madison had ever envisioned.  Which moved Madison into closer company with George Mason and Patrick Henry.  Desperately trying to hold onto states’ rights and oppose the expansion of the federal government.  Like he would oppose the great overreach of the federal government today.  The transfer of power from the states to the federal government.  And the expansion of suffrage to include those who don’t own property or pay taxes.  Leading to mob rule at times.  Populism.  And a tyranny of the majority.

Madison suffered ill health most of his life.  Stomach disorders and dysentery.  Brought on by the pressures of public service.  If he were alive today he probably wouldn’t remain alive long.  Seeing what has happened to his Constitution would probably kill him.  If he had the chance to vote today he would vote for the party that championed limited government.  The party that would stop the growth of the federal government.  And reduce its size.  The party that governed for all people and not the will of the populist mob.  The party that did NOT govern through class warfare but through sound principles.  If James Madison were alive today he would likely endorse the Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

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The Constitution, George Washington, Patrick Henry, George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the Bill of Rights

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 2nd, 2012

Politics 101

The People trusted no One Man with Great Power except, of course, George Washington

America had a new constitution.  It wasn’t easy.  For the American states covered a lot of geography.  And ideology.  These were a very different people.  Who had only joined together in union to resist their common enemy.  Great Britain.  But now that common enemy was no more.  What now?  These delegates who worked behind closed doors for 4 months in some of the hottest and most humid weather had done the best they could.  It was less a triumph of solidarity than the recognition that this was the best anyone was going to do considering how vast and disparate the people were.  So now it was up to the states to ratify it.  But would they?

Good question.  For there was a lot of opposition to transferring power, any power, from the states to a new central authority.  They had just cut the ties to one king.  And they didn’t do this just to submit to another king.  Of course, America would have no king.  For they would simply call their new executive president.  But it was still one man.  And many feared that this one man given some power may take more power.  So whoever the first president was had to be one of impeccable character and integrity.  A true Patriot.  One whose Revolutionary credentials were beyond questioning.  Someone who was in the struggle for independence from the beginning and never wavered in the cause.  Someone the people universally loved.  And respected.  Of course that could be but one man.  George Washington.

This is why we call George Washington the Father of our Country.  For without him there would have been no country.  For the people trusted no one man with great power.  But they trusted Washington.  And respected him.  Would even have made him king they trusted him so.  So because Washington was available to be the first president the delegates in Philadelphia signed the new Constitution.  For all their sectional differences this was one area where everyone agreed.  They were willing to risk having this new central government because they trusted it in the hands of this one man.  George Washington.

When Patrick Henry and George Mason opposed the new Constitution it was Doubtful Virginia would Vote for Ratification

Of course they weren’t just going to hand the presidency to Washington.  But the electors in the Electoral College simply weren’t going to have a better candidate to vote for.  Washington didn’t want the job.  He just wanted to enjoy retirement on his farm before he died.  And based on the longevity of Washington men he was already living on borrowed time.  But he would serve.  Again.  Because he fought too long and too hard to see the new nation collapse before it could even become a nation.  And he had no illusions about how horrible the job would be.  It was one thing giving orders in the Continental Army where people did what he told them.  But it was another dealing with Congress during the war.  Who couldn’t accomplish anything for the spirit of liberty.  As the states tended to look more after their own interests than the army fighting for their liberty.  Leaving his army barefoot, half naked and starving during the winter at Valley Forge.  And through most of the war.

So, no, being the president wasn’t going to give him the peace and serenity he could find under his vine and fig tree at home.  It would just put him closer to the partisan bickering.  But he was willing to sacrifice his own wants and desires yet again.  To serve the people.  But would the people want him?  For it wasn’t up to the delegates at the Constitutional Convention.  All they could do was make their case to the people.  Then let the people decide if they wanted this new government.  And perhaps the most critical state was Virginia.  Which not only gave us George Washington.  But George Mason.  Patrick Henry.  Thomas Jefferson.  And James Madison.

Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death!”  He was a great orator whose speeches could awe listeners.  He dripped Patriotism (even refused to attend the Philadelphia Convention as he feared it would lead to monarchy).  So did George Mason.  His Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776) no doubt inspired his fellow Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, who studied the same philosophers as Mason did.  So when Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence you could read some Virginia Declaration of Rights in it.  So his Revolutionary credentials were solid.  So when Henry and Mason opposed the new Constitution (Mason was a delegate at the convention but refused to sign it) it cast doubt over whether Virginia would ratify the new Constitution.

George Mason and Patrick Henry joined James Madison in fighting for Ratification of the Bill of Rights

Mason supported republican government.  But he didn’t trust a large republican government.  Not without a bill of rights.  Which is why he refused to sign the Constitution at the convention.  James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, argued against any bill of rights.  For he did not think it was needed.  For the Constitution enumerated the powers of the federal government.  Citing specifically what it could do.  And whatever wasn’t specifically enumerated they couldn’t do.  Madison feared if they included a bill of rights that it could backfire on them later.  For someone would argue that the Constitution stated the government can’t do A, B and C.  But it didn’t say anything about D.  So clearly the federal government can do D because it wasn’t included in the list of things it couldn’t do.  Madison saw that if you listed some rights you must list all rights.  Which changes the Constitution from forbidding the federal government from doing anything not enumerated to something that allows the government do whatever it wants as long as it is not listed in a bill of rights.

For some, though, a bill of rights was conditional for ratification.  George Mason simply wouldn’t vote for ratification unless the Constitution included a bill of rights.  Even Thomas Jefferson wrote Madison from Europe urging him to include a bill of rights.  The tide of Virginian opinion appeared to be against him on the issue.  And Madison needed Virginia.  For if Virginia didn’t ratify the chances were slim for ratification in other states.  Which did not bode well for the country.  Because of how vast and disparate the people were.  The northern states weren’t like the southern states.  And neither was like the western territory.  If there was no union the north would probably form a confederation.  And being a maritime region they’d probably seek out closer ties to Great Britain and their Royal Navy.  With some of the bloodiest fighting in the south perpetrated by the British and their Loyalist allies this would probably align the southern states to Britain’s eternal enemy.  France.  With two of Europe’s greatest powers entrenched in the east the western territories would probably align with that other European power.  Spain.  Who controlled the mouth of the Mississippi River.  The gateway to the world for western agriculture.  Turning America into another Europe.  Wars and all.

Madison worked tirelessly for ratification.  Working with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay on a series of articles published in newspapers making the case for ratification.  Later bound together into the Federalist Papers.  And then changing his stand on a bill of rights.  Promising to include a bill of rights as the first order of business for the new federal congress.  This brought George Mason around.  He even helped Madison on the bill of rights.  Which helped tip Virginia towards ratification despite a fierce opposition led by Patrick Henry.  But after ratification he, too, helped Madison pass the first 10 amendments to the Constitution.  The Bill of Rights.  Which Madison delivered during the first Congress as promised.  And then worked tirelessly for its ratification.

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LESSONS LEARNED #17: “The raison d’être of federalism is to keep big government small.” -Old Pithy.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 10th, 2010

ALEXANDER HAMILTON WAS a real bastard.  John Adams hated him.  Thomas Jefferson, too.  George Washington looked at him like a son.  Aaron Burr killed him.  Politics.  It can get ugly.

Hamilton’s father was having an affair with a married woman in a loveless marriage.  Fathered two children with her.  First James.  Then Alexander.  Both born on the British island of Nevis in the Caribbean.  His father then moved the family to the Danish island of St. Croix.  Shortly thereafter, Hamilton’s father abandoned his family.  Alexander was 10ish (there is some disagreement about his year of birth). 

At age 11ish, Alexander became a clerk at Cruger and Beekmen, an import-export firm.  There he learned about business and commerce.  People noticed his talent and ability.  Soon, they collected some money and sent him off to the American colonies for a college education.  Hamilton’s fondest memory of his childhood home was seeing St. Croix disappear into the horizon from the ship that delivered him to America.

Hamilton’s father did have some nobility in his lineage but he squandered it before it could do Alexander any good.  He was an illegitimate child (a real bastard).  His father abandoned him.  His mother died while he was young.  He had little but ability.  But that was enough to take him from St. Croix to the founding of a new nation.

Hamilton served in the Continental Army.  He served as General Washington’s aide-de-camp.  Hamilton was in the know as much as Washington.  His understanding of business, commerce and money made him acutely aware of the financial disarray of the Army.  And of the Continental Congress.  What he saw was a mess.

The Continental Congress was a weak central government.  It could not draft soldiers.  It could not impose taxes to pay her soldiers.  It could only ask the states for money to support the cause.  Contributions were few.  The congress tried printing money but the ensuing inflation just made things worse.  The Army would take supplies for subsistence and issue IOUs to the people they took them from.  The Congress would beg and borrow.  Most of her arms and hard currency came from France.  But they ran up a debt in the process with little prospect of repaying it.  Which made that begging and borrowing more difficult with each time they had to beg and borrow.

The army held together.  But it suffered.  Big time.  Washington would not forget that experience.  Or Hamilton.  Or the others who served.  For there was a unity in the Army.  Unlike there was in the confederation that supported the Army.

WARS ARE COSTLY.  And France fought a lot of them.  Especially with Great Britain.  She was helping the Americans in part to inflict some pain on her old nemesis.  And in the process perhaps regain some of what she lost to Great Britain in the New World.  You see, the British had just recently defeated the French in the French and Indian War (aka, the 7 Years War).  And she wanted her former possessions back.  But France was bleeding.  Strapped for cash, after Yorktown, she told the Americans not to expect any more French loans.

Wars are costly.  The fighting may have been over, but the debt remained.  The interest on the debt alone was crushing.  With the loss of a major creditor, America had to look elsewhere for money.  The Continental Congress’ Superintendent of Finance, the guy who had to find a way to pay these costs, Robert Morris, said they had to tax the Americans until it hurt they were so far in debt.  He put together a package of poll taxes, land taxes, an excise tax and tariffs.  The congress didn’t receive it very well.  Representation or not, Americans do not like taxes.  Of the proposed taxes, the congress only put the tariffs on imports before the states.

Rhode Island had a seaport.  Connecticut didn’t.  Rhode Island was charging tariffs on imports that passed through her state to other states.  Like to Connecticut.  Because they generated sufficient revenue from these tariffs, their farmers didn’t have to pay any taxes.  In other words, they could live tax free.  Because of circumstance, people in Rhode Island didn’t have to pay taxes.  Connecticut could pay their taxes for them.  Because of the Rhodes Island impost.  And the Robert Morris’ impost would take away that golden goose.

As the congress had no taxing authority, it would take a unanimous vote to implement the impost.  Twelve voted ‘yes’.  Rhode Island said ‘no’.  There would be no national tax.  ‘Liberty’ won.  And the nation teetered on the brink of financial ruin. 

DEFALTION FOLLOWED INFLATION.  When the British left, they took their trade and specie with them.  What trade remained lost the protection of the Royal Navy.  When money was cheap people borrowed.  With the money supply contracted, it was very difficult to repay that debt.  The Americans fell into a depression.  Farmers were in risk of losing the farm.  And debtors saw the moneymen as evil for expecting to get their money back.  The people demanded that their state governments do something.  And they did.

When the debtors became the majority in the state legislatures, they passed laws to unburden themselves from their obligations.  They passed moratoriums on the collection of debt (stay laws).  They allowed debtors to pay their debts in commodities in lieu of money (tender acts).  And they printed money.  The depression hit Rhode Island hard.  The debtors declared war on the creditors.  And threw property laws out the window.  Mob rule was in.  True democracy.  Rhode Island forced the creditors to accept depreciated paper money at face value.  Creditors, given no choice, had to accept pennies on the dollars owed.  No drawbacks to that, right?  Of course, you better pray you never, ever, need to borrow money again.  Funny thing about lenders.  If you don’t pay them back, they do stop lending.  The evil bastards.

Aristotle said history was cyclical.  It went from democracy to anarchy to tyranny.  Hamilton and James Madison, future enemies, agreed on this point.  A democracy is the death knell of liberty.  It is a sure road to the tyranny of the majority.  If you don’t honor written contracts, there can be no property rights.  Without property rights, no one is safe from arbitrary force.   Civilization degenerates to nature’s law where only the fittest and most powerful survive.  (In the social utopias of the Soviet Union and Communist China, where there were no property rights, the people’s government murdered millions of their people).

WINNING A WAR did not make a nation.  Before and after the Revolution, people thought in provincial terms.  Not as Americans.  Thomas Jefferson hated to be away from his country, Virginia.  Unless you served in the Continental Army, this is how you probably thought.  Once the common enemy was defeated, the states pursued their own interests.  (Technically speaking, they never stopped pursuing their own interests, even during the War).

In addition to all the other problems a weak Continental Congress was trying to resolve, states were fighting each other for land.  A localized war broke out between Pennsylvania and Connecticut over the Wyoming region in north east Pennsylvania.  And a region of New York was demanding their independence from that state.  Hamilton helped negotiate a peaceful solution and the confederacy admitted the new state, Vermont.

There were problems with the confederation.  And people were getting so giddy on liberty that that they were forgetting the fundamental that made it all possible.  Property rights.  States were moving closer to mob rule with no check on majority power.  And the smallest minorities held the legislation of the Confederate Congress (the Continental Congress renamed) hostage.  Land claims were pitting state against state with the Congress unable to do anything.  Meanwhile, her finances remained in shambles.  She had no credit in Europe.  And creditors wanted their money back. 

They were choosing sides.  And you can probably guess the sides.  Hamilton had no state allegiances, understood finance and capital, saw how an impotent congress was unable to support the Army during war, saw provincial interests hinder national progress and threaten civil war.  George Washington, Virginia’s greatest son, had long looked to the west and saw America’s future there.  Not Virginia’s future.  His war experience only confirmed what he believed.  America had a great future.  If they could only set aside their provincialism and sectional interests.  James Madison saw the tyranny of the majority in the Virginian State House first hand.  He liked partisanship.  He liked competing ideals debated.  He did not want to see a majority stampede their vision into law.

These were the nationalists.  Madison wanted a strong federal government to check the tyranny of the states.  Hamilton wanted to do away with the states altogether.  Washington wanted what was best for these several united states as a whole after so many labored for so long during the Revolutionary War.  Ultimately, he wanted to capitalize the ‘u’ and the’s’ in united states and make it a singular entity.

On the other side were many of the old 1776 patriots.  Many of who did not have any army experience.  Such as Thomas Jefferson.  In them, the Spirit of ’76 was alive and well.  The Revolutionary War was to free the states from the yoke of British oppression.  They remained provincials.  They did not spend up to 8 years in an army made up of soldiers from different states.  They had no sense of this nationalism.  They saw everything through the eyes of their state.  And a strong central government was just another yoke of oppression in their eyes.

THE ANSWER TO all of their concerns was federalism.  Shared sovereignty.  The states would give up a little.  And the new central government would take up a little.  The drafters of the Constitution set up a 3-branch government.  It included a bicameral legislature.  Membership in the House of Representatives would be proportional to a state’s population.  They would have power of the purse.  Including the authority to levy taxes.  In the Senate, each state would get 2 senators.  They would be chosen by the states’ legislatures (a constitutional amendment changed this to a popular vote).  This was to keep the spending of the House in check.  To prevent mob-rule.  And to check national power.  Each chamber would have to approve legislation for it to become law.  But each chamber did not need to have unanimous approval. 

That was in the legislature.  In the executive branch, the president would be head of state and execute the laws written by the legislature.  He would also conduct a uniform foreign policy.  The president could veto legislation to check the power of the legislature.  And the legislature could override the president’s veto to check the power of the president.  Where the law was in dispute, the judiciary would interpret the law and resolve the dispute.

At first glance, the people didn’t love the U.S. Constitution.  Those at the convention didn’t either, but they thought it was the best they could do.  To help the ratification process, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay wrote a series of essays, subsequently published as the Federalist Papers making the case for ratification.  Those opposed wanted a Bill of Rights added.  Madison did not think one was necessary.  He feared listing rights would protect those rights only.  If they forgot to list a right, then government could say that it wasn’t a right.  He acquiesced, though, when it was the price to get the Virginian Baptists on board which would bring Virginia on board. 

Madison promised to add a Bill of Rights after ratification.  So the states ratified it.  And he did.  The final document fell between what the nationalists wanted and what the ‘states’ government’ people wanted. 

OVER THE FOLLOWING years, each side would interpret the document differently.  When Hamilton interpreted broadly to create a national bank, to assume the states’ debts and to fund the debt, the other side went ballistic.  Madison, the father of the Constitution, would join Jefferson in opposition.  For they believed the point of the constitution was to keep big government small.  Hamilton was interpreting the ‘necessary and proper’ clause of the Constitution to make government big.  Nasty, partisan politics ensued.  And continue to this day.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #14: “Christianity does not beget antidisestablishmentarianism.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 18th, 2010

DID THE FOUNDING Fathers found America as a Christian nation?  No.  Did they found a secular nation?  Not exactly.  Did they found a federal nation?  Yes.

Federalism.  What does it mean?  It means the new federal government would have LIMITED powers.  The new national government would do national things.  Trade.  National defense.  Treat with other nations.  In other words, those things that required a single national voice.  The French didn’t want to treat with the individual states.  They didn’t want one set of trade agreements for Virginia and another for North Carolina.  Neither did Great Britain.  Or the other European powers.  No.  If the United States of America wanted to be an independent nation, then they had to act as a single, unified nation.  So they did.

The other things, the non-national things, they left to the states.  And one of these things was religion.  For when it came to religion, the new federal government did not interfere in the states’ religious business.  Ergo the First Amendment.  The ‘wall’ between church and state was to separate the new federal government from the states’ religious establishments.  If a state discriminated against all but their established religion, that was fine and dandy for it was a moot point as far as the federal government was concerned.  It just wasn’t their business.

Now, a truly secular government would intervene in such a case.  The federal government would later, but at the founding, one of the preconditions for ratification of the Constitution was that it wouldn’t.  And it didn’t.  Interfere with a state’s religion.

WE ALL KNOW the story of the Pilgrims, the Puritans, coming to the New World from England to escape religious persecution.  Probably not as familiar with the backstory.  The English Civil War.  Duke of Buckingham.  King and Parliament.  Queen and Parliament.  The French.  The Spanish.  The Pope.  The Kirk.  The Ulster Uprising.  Oliver Cromwell.  And, of course, William Laud.

Here’s the short version of what happened.  And some back-story to the back-story.  The Protestant Reformation split the Catholic Church.  Much fighting ensued.  This split nations into essentially Catholic and Protestant camps (which broke down into further divisions).  England was Protestant.  Scotland was Presbyterian (a branch of Protestantism).  Ireland was Catholic with a Protestant enclave in Ulster.

Mix them together, add a not great English king, who married a French Catholic, throw in a revised Church of England prayer book, bring back some Catholicism to the Protestant Church of England, dissolve Parliament, recall Parliament, try to dissolve it again and, well, you get civil war.  Parliament wins the war.  They behead the king. 

The English Civil War is a little more complicated than this.  But for our purposes, it’s the religious component that’s important. Everyone persecuted someone at one time.  One group, the Puritans, were Protestants.  Hardcore Protestants.  Calvinists.  They were about as anti-Catholic as you could get.  Didn’t like any of the Catholics’ fancy vestments, icons, statues, pictures, altar rails, candlesticks, stained glass windows, etc.  That church was corrupt.  They had lost their way. 

They didn’t believe in original sin or that you can buy your way into heaven.  God chose your fate before you were born.  If you were one of the elect, you passed your days in long church services and you read the Bible.  If you didn’t do these things it was proof you weren’t one of the elect.  And were damned.  No matter what you did during your life.  Cure cancer, it didn’t matter.  You were damned.

They didn’t like Catholics and Catholics didn’t like them.  And, as it turned out, the Protestant powers that be didn’t much care for them either.  In England or on the Continent.  They just couldn’t be un-Catholic enough to please the Puritans.  Much bitterness ensued.  Many left the Old World and settled in the New World.  Like the Israelites fleeing Egypt, these Puritans came to the New World to establish that city on a hill of Mathew 5:14 fame (from the Sermon on the Mount.  Given by Jesus Christ.  Just in case you’re unfamiliar with it).

THEY CAME FROM England, Scotland, the Netherlands, France and settled in New England, New York and the far side of the Appalachians.  A hard working people.  They provided for themselves.  Went to church.  Read the Bible.  All work and no play.  At least, some would say. 

They established the state-supported Congregational Church in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  John Adams was born and raised a Calvinist and attended this state-supported church.  When writing the new state’s constitution, the state support of the church was a contentious issue.  Most felt that religion was an indispensible part of life.  Others agreed but feared a religious majority would oppress a religious minority.  The process would take 3 years to resolve.

Being in the heart of the rebellion, Abigail Adams, Founding Mother, and perhaps America’s first feminist, experienced much of the darker side of the struggle for independence.  Soulmate of John Adams in every sense of the word, she was as religious as he.  As the war dragged on with no end in sight, she feared it was God’s punishment for the sins of American slavery.

IN VIRGINIA, THE established church was the Anglican Church (i.e., the Church of England).  As in Massachusetts, there was debate about an established majority religion oppressing a minority religion.  For good reason.  It did.  Right in James Madison’s backyard.  Baptists were harassed.  And imprisoned.  You needed a license to preach.  Virginia and the established church made getting that license very difficult.  If you were a Baptist.

America’s least religious Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, wrote the Virginian Statute for Religious Freedom.  The Virginian General Assembly passed it in 1786, two years before the states ratified the U.S. Constitution.  To help get the Virginian Baptists on board for ratification, James Madison, the father of the Constitution, promised to add a Bill of Rights after ratification that would add similar rights and protection at the federal level that were enacted at the state level.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN MAY have been a Deist.  He was, after all, the embodiment of the Enlightenment.  Like Thomas Jefferson.  They embraced reason over dogma.  But Franklin believed religious faith was fundamental to civilized society.  His personal beliefs boiled down to simply doing good deeds.  Help others.  And sometimes you need to remind some people to help others.  And that’s why he liked religion.  He spent much of his life helping his community (serving in the state militia, participating in the volunteer fire department, etc.).  At an impasse at the Constitutional Convention, it was he who suggested they should pray.

GEORGE WASHINGTON MAY not have taken communion, but he added chaplains to his army units during the American Revolution.  He believed the American cause was a divine one.  He feared a lack of faith may determine battlefield outcomes.  He led an integrated army of Protestants and Catholics.  And Jews.  And blacks.  And others.  He forbade anti-Catholic demonstrations which were very common in the former British colonies.  When an Army went to Canada to attack the British, they were to respect the Catholic French Canadians and invite them to join their cause.  He would even attend Catholic service on occasion.  Like the army, the nation he would lead would be a melting pot.  Tolerance and respect was the mantra.  For all Americans.

SO, DID THE Founding Fathers found a Christian nation?  No.  Religious establishment was simply beyond the responsibility of the new federal government.  Did Christians settle the original colonies?  Yes.  And they established Christian churches.  And the states were worried that a new federal government would interfere with their religious business.  Some wanted additional safeguards written in.  So James Madison added the Bill of Rights after ratification.  The First Amendment placed a wall between the federal government and the States’ religious establishments.

In time, the states extended the tolerance and respect of religious diversity prevalent in Washington’s army to their states.  They disestablished their established churches.  And, to their relief, religion flourished.  Especially the different branches of Christianity.  Yes, America became even more Christian, but it tolerated and respected other religions.  New York even had a Jewish Temple 3 years after the British surrender at Yorktown.  And even the Catholics were welcomed in the new nation.

DISESTABLISHMENTARIANISM INCREASED THE spread of Christianity.  Like the economy, the freer it was the more it flourished.  And with the great number of Christian religions that have since spread across the nation, it is unlikely that overt acts of Christianity would result in the establishment of one of these.  Or the reestablishment of the Church of England. 

So go ahead and display your Christmas Crèche or the Ten Commandments.  Chances are good that it won’t beget antidisestablishmentarianism.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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